Bite of the Beast and Bastianich Wines

By Talia Tinari

On the last Thursday of every month Locanda Del Lago serves a four-course communal dinner featuring whole animal roasts and traditional rustic dishes with an optional wine pairing. August’s Morso della Bestia, or Bite of the Beast, featured sustainably caught New Zealand tuna paired with Bastianich wines.

Locanda del Lago opened in 1991, serving regional dishes from the Lake Como area. With its orange awnings, walls adorned with Cinzano posters, exposed wood-beam ceiling and stone tile floors the restaurant could be any trattoria in a piazza in Italy, save for the view of Third Street Promenade.

We were graciously welcomed by everyone, including owner West Hooker-Poletti, and general manager, Megan Heritage. We sat at the family table under a tea-candle chandelier surrounded by the unmistakable din of a full restaurant — happy people spending time together sharing a meal.

The first course was Insalata di Tonno e Fragole (Tuna Salad with Strawberries) with wild arugula, pickled strawberries, tuna conserva, crispy capers and olive oil. The tuna, poached in olive oil, was similar to expensive Italian tuna jarred in olive oil, but so much better. The wine pairing was Bastianich Chardonnay Vini Orsone, 2015.

The Orsone wines are considered Bastianich’s entry-level wines, but there would be no way of knowing that through taste and quality alone. They are all elegant and well-balanced, sharing the name “Orsone” (big bear) with the Joe and Lidia Bastianich restaurant and inn complex in Cividale del Friuli.

The Chardonnay was pleasantly high in acid and elegant with all of the characteristics of a restrained Chardonnay. The mouth-feel and weight of the wine was similar to that of a Pinot Grigio but with the flavor profile of a Chardonnay. Its acidity cut through the oil of the poached tuna and paired beautifully with the pickled strawberries, smoky fried capers and bitterness of the arugula.

The second dish was Torta di Tonno (Fish Cakes) with avocado, micro salad, and a Missoltino-Calabrian chile vinagrette.

It was paired with Bastianich Friulano, Vini Orsone, 2015. The Friulano, a grape native to the Friuli-Venezia-Giulia region has a beautiful, round mouth-feel and, as described on the menu, luscious pear flavors and minerality.

The Missoltino-chili sauce was the standout flavor of the meal. Missoltino are deep-water fish from Lake Garda. They are salted and after a few days washed and dried in the sun. They have an umami quality similar to that of preserved anchovy.

The weight of the Friulano was perfect with the weight of the fish cake. Half way through (the course) the spicy chili predominated over the subtle aromatics of the wine, and for a minute my palate quit. I was left with just enjoying the salty hot flavor of the Missoltino-Chili sauce.

The next course was Carbonara al Tonno (Tuna Carbonara) tonnarelli pasta, with charred onion, tuna belly, farm egg and pink peppercorn paired with Bastianich’s flagship Vespa 2014. The tonnarelli, was topped with a raw egg yolk, placed equidistant from the medallion of tuna belly. Once the egg was mixed in, the pasta became thicker and richer. Flaking apart the tuna belly I was able to include it in every bite of the pasta.

The Vespa is a classic, beautiful white. It’s made of equal parts Sauvignon (Blanc) and Chardonnay and a touch of Picolit, a white, indigenous, and difficult to grow native grape of Friuli. The wine was gorgeous with notes of citrus, honey and white flowers on the nose and crisp minerality on the palate. Sipping the Vespa with the food, the wine highlighted the crushed, dried peppercorn producing a delightful flavor profile that I can only describe as pink! The magic of food and wine!

The last course was the Tonno al Pepe Verde, a seared tuna loin, served with smoked white polenta and sweet pepper compote. It was paired with Refosco Vini Orsone 2014.

The tuna was seared perfectly and the medium-bodied, fine-grained, grippy tannins of the wine lent to the pairing a wonderful textural experience in the mouth—the structure of the wine supporting the sear of the surface of the fish, and then breaking down the proteins of the softer rare meat inside the loin. The flavor of the reduced pepperonata brought out the soft, wild-berry and tobacco leaf aromas of the wine.
Chef George Pincay sources many of his ingredients from the Farmers Market. This meal included tomato from Coastal Farm, pepper from Beylik Farm, strawberry and arugula from Tamai, greens from Maggie’s, egg from Lily’s Farm, and avocado from JJ Lone Daughter Ranch. The dishes were substantial, but the presentation was still elegant, peppered with edible flowers and micro-greens. Upcoming Morso della Bestia menus are available at lagosantamonica.com.

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